Killingly schools reeling after three holiday weekend deaths

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KILLINGLY -- The Killingly community is mourning after losing three beloved members.

Students, teachers and staff at Killingly Public Schools are dealing with three unexpected deaths that occurred in recent days. A popular assistant principal, a high school junior and a high school freshman were among them.

Just before noon on Monday, State Police were called to a fatal, one car crash along I-395 in Putnam. The victim, 16-year-old Killingly High School junior Ryan French, was killed after striking a railroad bridge abutment.

"Every time we walked past each other in the hallway it would be with like a handshake and just like how's it going," said Connor Wood, a classmate of French's.

Wood said Killingly High School was quiet Tuesday, but emphasized that there was a real sense of community within the school.

"A lot of people just saying 'Hi' in the hallways, just making sure people know that you're there for them," Wood said.

He described French as a great athlete and classmate. He was also an alternate member of the town's Board of Education.

"He was bright, thoughtful, caring, very, very involved, very well liked by students, staff," said Dr. Lynne Pierson, the interim superintendent of schools.

Some of the same state troopers who responded to French's crash had just tended to beloved Killingly Intermediate School Assistant Principal Steve Tagen, who died unexpectedly at his home Monday morning.

"He was here for 13 years and he cared tremendously about every single student and staff member that he ever worked with," said Killingly Intermediate School Principal Heather Taylor.

The other student in the school system lost over the weekend was a would-be ninth grader, who was unable to attend school this year because she had brain cancer.

The interim superintendent of schools has been a crisis management specialist in other districts in which she's worked.

"Some of the best and most important things you can do during times like this are to listen and respond with feeling," said Pierson.